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O Visas for Exceptionally Talented Individuals

The O-1 visa is for exceptionally talented individuals in science, the arts, business, education or athletics.  O-2 visas are for supporting or accompanying staff adjuncts to the O-1 visa holder and O-3 visas are for family dependents of the O-1. The O visa may be an excellent alternative option for individuals who do not qualify for the H visa for three main reasons:

  • The O has no wage maintenance requirement;
  • There is no annual numerical cap for the O visa;
  • It has no default time restriction.

What does “extraordinary” mean for the purpose of obtaining O visa approval? The standard for who is extraordinary is different for two groups of O visa applicants: the bar is high for persons in science, business, education and athletics.  However the bar is significantly lower for applicants in arts and entertainment.  Individuals in film and television need show “a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement” which presumably is a middle ground between the extraordinary standard for science, business, education and athletics and the substantially lower standard applied to arts and entertainment. If this is confusing to you simply realize one main point: there is a great deal of ambiguity with regard to what USCIS needs to see in order to approve an O visa, which means that often with the proper documentation and advocacy, a case which might otherwise be on the fence can be approved. For scientists, educators, business-persons and athletes, a showing of any three of the following elements enumeratedin 8 CFR § 214.2 will meet the O visa requirement of exceptionality:

  • The applicant has won a national or international prize in their field;
  • The applicant is a member in an organization which is exclusive to the top of their profession;
  • The applicant has been published in important media outlets either generally or in journals specific to the profession;
  • The applicant has been involved in professionally evaluating others in his/her field;
  • The applicant has personally made a significant contribution to the field in an original and creative manner;
  • The applicant has received coverage in important media outlets either generally or in journals specific to the profession;
  • The applicant has been employed in prestigious positions of note in the field;
  • The applicant has been paid high salaries for his or her work in the field.

No specific limit is imposed on O visa holders in terms of the time frame during which they are permitted to remain in the U.S. other than to say that the visa holder may remain in the U.S. for as long as the event for which they are traveling is scheduled to occur.  O visa holders may arrive in the U.S. up to ten days prior to that event.

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